The World Obesity Federation has published its fourth World Obesity Atlas, which this year provides predictions for the prevalence of obesity in men, women and children in 2030 and presents a new index for ranking countries in terms of their preparedness for obesity, including their health systems. Published on World Obesity Day, a global awareness day calling for action to address the impact of obesity, the Atlas report estimates that by 2030 a billion people globally will be living with obesity.
“Political and public health leaders need to recognise the gravity of the obesity challenge, and take action. The numbers in our report are shocking, but what is even more shocking is how inadequate our response has been,” said Johanna Ralston, CEO World Obesity Federation. “Everyone has a basic right to prevention, treatment and management access which works for them. Now is the time for joined up, decisive and people centred action to turn the tide on obesity.”
Obesity rates continue to rise, and by 2030 it is predicted that the number of people with obesity globally will have doubled since 2010. While the lack of progress on reducing obesity is a worldwide issue, each region has its own story. In parts of Europe and North America obesity is starting to plateau, albeit at a high rate, while it is rising fastest in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) as well as Small Island Developing States (SIDS), adding pressure to many countries also grappling with malnutrition.
The highest rates of obesity are still found in the WHO Americas region for both men and women. However, while the Americas are predicted to have a 1.5 fold increase between 2010 and 2030, the numbers in Africa are expected to triple by 2030; from 8 million (2010) to 27 million men (2030) and 26 million (2010) to 74 million women (2030).
It is also notable that half of all women with obesity live in 11 countries: USA, China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan. At the same time, half of all men with obesity live in nine countries: USA, China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Egypt, Germany and Turkey. Of these countries, the USA has the highest prevalence for men and Egypt the highest for women.
Especially concerning are the countries that feature in both the top 20 rankings for prevalence and number of people living with obesity projections; namely USA, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
“It is clear we will not meet the 2025 UN targets to halt the rise of obesity, however we do have reasons to be optimistic. Every year we are increasing our scientific understanding of obesity, more people than ever are demanding action in their communities, and the recent momentum on securing WHO led coordination through a Global Action Plan on Obesity means we should remain hopeful,” explained Ralston. “But the missed opportunity of the last decade should be a warning that success will only come if we all work together and invest in implementing and supporting comprehensive actions to prevent, manage and treat obesity throughout the life course.”
National governments must take action to prevent the rise of obesity, while also ensuring that people already living with obesity have access to appropriate health services to support weight management and related diseases. The World Obesity Atlas has developed the first measurement of a country’s preparedness for high levels of obesity, ‘The Obesity-NCD Preparedness Ranking’, using evidence of a country’s health system relating to non-communicable diseases.
The preparedness rankings vary significantly across national income levels and geographical regions. While the 30 most prepared countries are all high income, the 30 least prepared countries are, unsurprisingly, all lower middle and low income countries, adding to concerns about the impact of inaction on already vulnerable populations.
The prevention of obesity, as well as early intervention and treatment, through government policy is vital. This is critical to ensure that health services are not overwhelmed and are able to provide the necessary care to those who need it.
In response to the report’s findings, global health experts and advocates have made a united call for a Global Action Plan on Obesity through an open letter to health leaders, ahead of the World Health Assembly in May 2022.
Over 150 individuals have signed the letter to date, including World Obesity Federation President, Professor John Wilding, with their shared voice stating: “For too long we have all failed on obesity, and have witnessed generations of misunderstanding, fragmentation, underinvestment in and stigmatisation of obesity and those affected by it. As a result, the world is catastrophically now off track to meet the WHO 2025 obesity targets which all world leaders committed to in 2013. It is time to deliver a comprehensive, cohesive and integrated approach to prevent and treat obesity.”
The Global Action Plan on obesity would bring together existing actions, including WHO’s draft recommendations and wider work to develop an Acceleration Plan on obesity in priority countries, under one framework. The plan should put individuals at the centre, cover prevention and treatment across the life course, be adaptable for different contexts and serve as the backbone for national action on obesity.
To access the World Obesity Atlas report, please click here